Is there such a thing as "digital solidarity"?

It's remarkable how drastic occurrences bear the potential for change, for the better or the worse. When thinking about the current situation with the covid-19 pandemic, the changes to the worse are countless and they have immediate impact or long-term consequences which we may not even be aware of at the moment. Nevertheless, it is also undeniable that societal processes have started to bring positive chances for us all, which we should use consciously and develop for the better.

But how can people come together and interact socially in times of physical distance, as is currently the case? Digital networks have been demonized for a long time condemning them to foster solitude, image cultivation, hate speech and fake news, among others. But nowadays as people are asked to stay home, to only keep absolutely necessary appointments and to not meet friends or family members, these alleged "demons" are one of the only remaining ways for human interaction.

When physical meetings of people or groups to connect or stand in for their matters -as we have used to know it- is not possible anymore, these dynamics may shift to digital formats which in most cases have supported human interaction anyway already before (e.g. online gathering of likeminded people or coordination of groups, campaigns, etc.). Especially via social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and else even, without meeting in person, societal dynamics can be triggered and even common solidarity movements are possible. Examples for this are manifold: assistance offers and help coordination in neighbourhoods which have been shooting up like mushrooms, campaigns for support for e.g. the cultural scene and its artists, information platforms joining forces for tackling fake news on the virus and for avoiding a further division in society, virtual platforms for psychological help or simply to offer a good talk, etc.

The use of the hashtag #wirbleibenzuhause (or: #westayhome) went viral while being supported by public figures or e.g. employees from the health sector asking people to follow the measures of physical distancing so that the health system would not collapse. Some analyses of these phenomena already state the evolution of new social norms, which are currently set digitally: people who stay at home are perceived as solidary actors within the societal system, while others who do not follow the governmental measures are condemned.

However one might interpret these developments, all in all, the corona pandemic clearly shows the importance of digital formats and the power of social networks in our societies. We are not pleading for a complete shift of human interaction from physical encounters to digital formats. It should be kept in mind that there are always two sides of the same coin. Usually, it depends on what you make of it. And this is why digital formats should be exploited to the fullest now to alleviate the negative effects of physical distancing, but at the same time they should be used wisely and consciously to bridge the current gap between people, at least partly. Therefore, even more in these days, digital competences among all people -independent from social or educational background, access to digital infrastructure, age, or else- are crucial to not create only another format of exclusion, but to realize and use its great potential.

Let's take the best out of the tools we have at hand and make the digital space more inclusive and solidary!